A boy and his father spend the summer diving and fishing in Mexico’s pristine waters in “To the Sea,” a lovely, soulful feature from multihyphenate Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio that plays on the border between documentary and fiction. Few viewers will be bothered by the occasional ambiguity: What’s important is the symbiotic relationship between father and son, and their connection to their environment, plus the sheer beauty of the locale. Gotham’s Film Movement just picked up U.S. theatrical rights, promising a deserved arthouse run that should win over viewers in synch with the film’s gentle pacing.
At the start, Mexican Jorge Machado and Italian Roberta Palombini speak in separate voiceovers about their whirlwind courtship, followed by the birth of their son, Natan, and their separation. Jorge returned to his native land, while Roberta, unable to live the basic, elemental life Jorge wanted, stayed in Italy with Natan.
Despite the distance, Jorge maintains a close relationship with his son, and the pic really begins when Roberta drops him off with Jorge to spend the summer among the coral reefs of Banco Chinchorro, in the Mexican Caribbean.
Together with “Matraca,” an old fisherman, they spend their days in a small fishing boat and their nights in a makeshift shack on stilts erected in the bay. For a kid being raised in Rome, there’s an enormous gap between Natan’s daily life with his mom and this Robinson Crusoe-like idyll. Part of the pic’s strength is the way it shows Natan’s complete ease in each world, thanks in no small part to supportive parents who also seem to respect each other.
There’s not much plot beyond such activities as diving for lobster, catching red snapper and barracuda, or making friends with a wild egret. Nature is demystified and exalted at the same time, with Jorge showing Natan how they fit synergetically into the chain of life.
Gonzalez-Rubio (co-director of “Black Bull”) isn’t afraid to mimic nature’s slower rhythms, resulting in a leisurely pace that suits the milieu but shouldn’t turn off most arthouse auds.
In interviews, the helmer revealed that, while the people in the film are real, he suggested some of the situations, which were then followed through by the characters as part of ordinary activity. “Matraca” is once referred to as Jorge’s father, though it’s obvious, in terms of body language alone, that there is no blood connection. Such manipulation is unnecessary, but it doesn’t interfere with the main father-son relationship.
Transferred from HD to 35mm, the pic at times cries out for the added richness of shooting on film, but the lightness and flexibility of the digital lensing, plus the textures Gonzalez-Rubio gets out of it, warrants the decision to shoot on HD. Compositions are handsome and artful without being arty. There’s a satisfyingly holistic feel to the whole production, thanks in part to the intimate nature of the pic’s crew.